JERUSALEM — Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is planning to attend the funeral on Friday of former Israeli prime minister Shimon Peres in Jerusalem, despite stiff opposition from some Palestinians who view Peres not as a man of peace but as an enemy occupier.
The Palestinian leader sent a formal request to attend the Friday service to Israeli Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, the military chief of the occupied West Bank. After a nod of approval by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Abbas was given permission.
Social media erupted with catcalls, damning Abbas as a weakling and begging him to cancel his appearance.
After Abbas sent a public letter of condolence to the Peres family, calling the Israeli leader a brave man and expressing his sorrow, his bitter rivals in the Islamist militant movement Hamas accused Abbas of ignoring the suffering of the Palestinian people.
According to aides, Abbas was undeterred.
“He wants to go,” said a Palestinian official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue. “He thinks it’s the right thing to do and the right thing for the Palestinian cause.”
Israel has been pressing ahead recently with quiet diplomacy to reach out to moderate Arab states that feel threatened by Iran and the rise of terrorist groups such as the Islamic State. Israel was hoping that a sizable contingent of senior Arab leaders might come to the Peres funeral, but so far the Arab attendees are diplomats and ministers — not kings and presidents.
Abbas will attend the ceremony, alongside 100 world leaders and dignitaries, including President Obama and former president Bill Clinton.
The state funeral for Peres is expected to be one of the largest in Israel since the 1995 burial of Yitzhak Rabin, the prime minister who was assassinated by a Jewish extremist who opposed the efforts of Rabin and Peres to reach an agreement with the Palestinians by giving up land for peace.
Yasser Arafat, who was the leader of the Palestine Liberation Organization, did not attend Rabin’s funeral in Jerusalem, although the two men and Peres had shared a stage to accept the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994. Instead, Arafat met privately with the Rabin family.
More than 8,000 Israeli police officers will be the scene Friday. The main road into Jerusalem will be closed for two hours in the morning and two hours after the funeral ends to allow Obama’s entourage easy and safe access to the city.
Israel police chief Roni Alsheich told reporters Thursday that security forces carried out “preventative arrests” of several Jewish and Arab suspects “out of fear that they could cause problems at the state funeral.”
On Thursday, an estimated 35,000 Israelis, alongside tourists, diplomats, political leaders and a former U.S. president, climbed the hill to the Israel parliament to pay their respects before the flag-draped casket of Peres, one of last of the original founders of the Jewish state.
Clinton landed in Tel Aviv and before checking into his hotel came to the Knesset to stand quietly for a moment before Peres’s casket.
Obama is expected to land in Israel early Friday for the funeral. The U.S. delegation also will include Secretary of State John F. Kerry, national security adviser Susan E. Rice and a dozen members of Congress, as well as leaders of the U.S. Jewish community.
“He was the man who wrote the story of Israel,” said Devora Siegel, 32, a teacher in Jerusalem who brought along three students to the plaza outside the parliament.
“He did a lot for our country,” said one of her 13-year-old students, Sophie. “He fought for us.”
Nicole Herzog, 43, is from Vienna. She is Jewish and said she comes to Israel for one week every year. As she waited to view the casket, she recalled how her grandfather died in the Holocaust.
“He didn’t want to leave the opera houses and theaters of Vienna. He believed that this land was only a desert,” she said. “He died because he didn’t believe that men like Peres could build a state. Now there is a country where we can always go.”
The 93-year-old former prime minister, president and Nobel Peace Prize winner died at a Tel Aviv hospital before dawn Wednesday from complications of a massive stroke suffered two weeks earlier.
More than 90 delegations from 70 countries are expected at the funeral.
Jordan is sending its deputy prime minister and former chief peace negotiator Jawad Anani. Jordan’s King Abdullah II sent a note of condolences, but no member of the royal family is expected. Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry will attend, but not Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi. Turkey is sending Deputy Foreign Minister Ahmet Yildiz.
In addition to Obama, the Israel foreign ministry reported that the national leaders and dignitaries who are expected to attend the Friday funeral include French President François Hollande, German President Joachim Gauck, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto and European Council President Donald Tusk.
The British delegation is led by Charles Prince of Wales, alongside former British prime ministers David Cameron and Tony Blair, and Foreign Minister Boris Johnson.